Thursday, July 27, 2017

A New Wrinkle on Power Rack Training - John McKean (1981)

From this Issue (February, 1981)

More Articles by John McKean:

The Author, John McKean

Interview with John:

Deadlift, Dumbbell, Right Arm, 266.5 lbs:

Thanks BIG for sharing your knowledge and experience, John! 

Back to the Rack: 
A New Wrinkle on Power Rack Training
by John McKean (1981) 

Over the past few years several authors have expounded the virtues of limited movement power rack training: ISOMETRONIC, as Peary Rader calls it . . . and for good reason . . . it works!

Rader Isometronic Course:

Some daring and innovative men, particularly in the early '60s, found they could make great increases in their competitive lifts with work on the rack when their "normal" routines had ceased to produce progress. However, despite its apparent value and the good sense behind its theory, I've witness very few power men actually employ PROPER limited movement training.

Oh sure, some guys do half and quarter squats and a few take the bar off high pins, lower themselves to certain positions and come up. But unless the bar is started from a dead stop and moved to an isometric position four or five inches above, the fantastic gains of the power rack pioneers are not achieved.

Why do so few trainees use the rack incorrectly? Well, for one thing it's damn tough and very little weight can be used at first, especially from the bottom positions. Movements are short and awkward, no 'pump' is created, nor is there the burst of acceleration most lifters enjoy in a standard range exercise.

A very big factor against short-range lifting, though, and the point of this article, is the finish of the movement - that cruel and unusual punishment known as isometrics.

Most weight men are turned off by isometrics. This form of exercise is particularly treacherous when performed with a briefly moved HEAVY barbell - the original isometronic concept. If too little weight is used for the initial lift . . . the bar clangs loudly against the top pin creating vigorous reverberations throughout the unfortunate lifter's body. When a correct weight (heavy enough to prevent speed or acceleration) is employed, it's extremely difficult to concentrate on pushing more forcefully into the cold steel of the upper pins.

I know, I know, you're supposed to pretend you are bending or breaking those upper pins - but in your heart you know it's futile. You are, in effect, banging your head against a brick wall. Most such attempted isometrics become merely supports and much of the desired effect (and desired gains) are lost.

I've developed a simple and very effective solution to the 'dead end' upper pin problem. Since its application I've eliminated the boredom and frustration of a sheer isometric, yet receive all its benefits. My mental attitude and progress have skyrocketed.

Simply stated, I place a cylindrical piece of Styrofoam or rubber of about 3.5 inches in diameter and 6 to 8 inches in length around each top pin. I cut mine from old boat bumpers. They're cheap and the center hole fits perfectly around a 5/8 inch rack pin. When the barbell hits these there is still a bit of movement possible as they yield and compress. THE LIFT NEVER REALLY REACHES A DEAD END, and incentive is there to keep pushing (6 seconds or more) to seek the deepest possible penetration into the pads. It's a lot more comfortable to put forth a truly maximum effort at the top due to the gentle give, and the body is 'tricked' into greater and greater exertion! Eventually, of course, the body reaches ITS limit of push, but it's practically impossible to ever completely squash those pads (especially with a sufficiently heavy barbell).

To implement this bumper rack training into, let's say a squat program, I use three positions:

 - at parallel
 - 3 inches above parallel
 - 3 inches below parallel.

I go for one maximum exertion at each position - after a regular, though limited squat session - or at times devote a workout solely to the rack, using a brief but adequate warmup to get to the top weight. I train twice weekly.

I must emphasize the necessity of only using ONE ALL OUT attempt at each position. If you can do more than a single set at each position you aren't putting forth enough physical and/or mental effort, or the weight is too light.

I use as much weight as I can so I can just get up from each of the three imposed bottom positions to the top bumper pads. I add five pounds to each position every workout. After a few weeks of this progression, when the weight starts getting up there, it's amazing how little push you can apply into the bumpers, but it's always a challenge to try to crush them!

After the six-second push at the top, if I'm not completely burned out, I like to lower the bar to one inch above the bottom pins, hold for six seconds, then try for another push back up into the pads. Believe me, this is such intense work that you'll have no need for further reps or sets. When done with concentration, four max efforts are performed in this compound movement (two starts from the bottom, two finishes at the top).

Start easy on this program and gradually build up to heavier and heavier weights. Eventually you'll have days when the five pound increase will prove just a trifle too much and you won't quite be able to make it up the four inches to the bumpers. Don't let this get you down! In fact, feel good about it- you've truly worked a max rep. In this case simply hold at the stuck position for six seconds or so, trying like crazy the whole time to touch the pads. I've found when this has happened to me that not only could I still add five more pounds the following workout, but also would have gained the strength to reach the top with the increased load!

As an indication of how well this routine has worked for me, before its inception I had a top competition squat of 450 at 148. Within months I set four state records, did an official 530, and made PL USA's top ten in that lift!

Now, I achieved the gains honestly (without drugs), am not a 'natural' or fast gainer (though I do tend to specialize on the squat), and do not have good leverage for the movement (other than being short and having a plump rump!). I'm sure a lot of guys who are better blessed physically could make greater and more rapid gains than I - if they give this new rack wrinkle a try.

I've found sticking points are no longer a problem, proper body position for maximum force is learned, and the all-important drive from bottom is increased tremendously.

Want an honest to goodness shortcut to power? All it takes is a rack, a couple of bumper pads, and enough grit and conviction to give it a try!

To summarize the performance:

1) Hard initial lift from dead stop in the bottom position.
2) Maximum push into the top bumper for 6 seconds.
3) Slowly lower to 1 inch above the bottom pins.
4) Hold at 1 inch above the bottom pins for 6 seconds.
5) Push back to top and into bumper pins.

One  max set at parallel, one at 3 inches above parallel, one at 3 inches below parallel. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Sumo Deadlift - Daniel Belcher (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of Strength & Conditioning Journal.


In the sport of powerlifting, the deadlift is one of the 3 skilled lifts tested in competition. It is also commonly used in strength-based sport training as well. It is described by the IPF Technical Rules Book as a full body compound exercise used to lift a barbell from the floor to a standing erect position.

In powerlifting, 2 deadlift variations, the conventional deadlift (CDL) and sumo deadlift (SDL) are used in competition. Of these 2 variations, the SDL is only described vaguely in the literature and often lacks specific detail on its technical execution. Given the increased risk for injury in powerlifting, because of the testing of maximal loads being the very nature of the sport, proper exercise technique, and coaching should be established.

Sumo Deadlift: EliteFTS Roundtable Discussion:

Choosing a Variation

For athletes such as powerlifters, there are a few factors to consider when choosing which deadlift variation to use. Factors such as anthropometrics (body measurements), mobility, muscular activity, and injury history should be assessed to choose which variation is best suited for the athlete to achieve the heaviest lift possible in competition. 

Anthropometrically, it is suggest by Hales that athletes with elongated arms should use the CDL and those with shorter arms would be better suited to use the SDL. Article: Those with average arm lengths are suited to use both variations. Arm segment lengths are defined as short by being less than or long by greater than 38% of total body height. Article:  

The athlete should also consider flexibility and mobility. The SDL requires greater hip mobility than the CDL to properly get into the starting position; therefore, athletes with reduced hip flexibility should  choose the CDL over the SDL.

Muscular activity should also be considered when choosing a deadlift variation for training programs and achieving maximal strength. Both the SDL and CDL generate similar amounts of large hip extensor moments Articles:  However, the SDL recruits greater quadriceps and knee moments than the CDL in addition to the hip extensor moments. Therefore, athletes seeking to limit excessive quadriceps activity should choose the CDL over the SDL.

An athlete's individual injury history also needs to be examined when selecting a deadlift variation. Because of the excessive trunk lean in the CDL increasing vertebral joint load shear, the SDL may be better suited for athletes with previous spine injuries. Articles:  

The deadlift has often been used in post-surgery ACL rehabilitation because of the co-contraction of the quadriceps and hamstrings. Articles:  Because of the greater involvement of the hamstrings over the quadriceps, the CDL may be a better option in the early stages of ACL reconstruction therapy. Articles:

Athletes with restricted hip mobility due to previous injuries should favor the CDL over the SDL because of the need for greater hip flexibility to properly perform SDL.

To summarize, when selecting a deadlift variation, anthropometrics, flexibility, muscular activity, and previous injuries should be taken into consideration for each individual athlete. Athletes with elongated arms, limited hip mobility, training calls for less quadriceps activity, or previous knee or hip injuries should lean toward choosing the CDL. Those with shorter arms, above average hip mobility, a need for greater quadriceps recruitment, or suffer from back pain or previous vertebral injuries should favor the SDL over the CDL for training and competition.

However, powerlifting athletes should feel open to exploring both variations in their out-of-competition training to find which variation works best for them. These advantages and disadvantages are shown below:

Sumo versus Conventional Deadlift Advantages and Disadvantages


Sumo -
Advantages -
shorter range of motion, less total work needed to complete lift, less lumbar load shear, greater quadriceps activity.

Disadvantages -
requires greater hip mobility, more time spent in the acceleration phase.

Conventional -
Advantages -
generally performed at a high velocity, may be more applicable to traditional sports skills.

Disadvantages -
requires greater work to complete the lift, causes greater lumbar load shear.


Sumo -
Advantages -
may be advantageous to athletes with shorter arms.

Disadvantages -
not advantageous to athletes with longer arms.

Conventional -
Advantages -
may be advantageous to athletes with longer arms.

Disadvantages -
not advantageous to athletes with shorter arms.

Injury History:

Sumo -
Advantages - 
may benefit those with lumbar spine injuries.

Disadvantages -
may not suit athletes with hip injuries.

Conventional -
Advantages -
may be better suited for athletes with knee or hip injuries.

Disadvantages -
may not be suited for athletes with lumbar spine injuries.

Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift

The SDL is a compound movement that can promote an athlete's total body strength. Powerlifters have the choice to use the SDL variation in competition. Powerlifters who wish to increase quadriceps development with exercises outside the squat may benefit from using the SDL during out-of-competition training. However, technique specificity should become more of a priority as they approach competition. Article:

Athletes involved in sports that require strong or rapid back, hip, or knee extension would also benefit from this movement. The SDL often requires less work to perform when compared with the CDL because of the shorter range of motion that is created by the reduced bar to lumbar moment arm and the wider stance associated with the SDL. Article:

Exercise Technique

Starting Position - Preparation.

Once the proper barbell setup is positioned on the floor, the athlete should assume a stance with the feet placed outside shoulder width. Actual foot width may vary to some degree based on the athlete's anthropometrics and mobility. The midfoot should be in line with the bar with the feet turned outward at approximately 40 to 45 degrees with the shins in a near vertical position.

The athlete should then actively squat down and grip the bar. The knees should be in line with the second and third toes of the foot. The arms should hang straight down directly between the knees with the hands gripping the bar in a double overhand (hands pronated), alternated (one hand pronated, one hand supinated), or hook grip (hands pronated with fingers over thumb).

Lower Photo: Schtraps
From: How to Deadlift: The Definitive Guide
from the guys at Stronger by Science

 MASS magazine: 

Set into the starting position by shifting the hips back while maintaining an upright trunk position approximately at or less than 45 degrees. The hips should be positioned slightly higher than the knees, and the spine should be arched in slight lordosis opposing lumbar spine flexion. Excessive lordosis or kyphosis should be avoided. The shoulders should be positioned slightly in front of the bar with the scapula in line vertically with the bar. The latissimus dorsi should then be actively engaged while simultaneously externally rotating the femurs, driving the knees outward.

Before initiating the movement, athlete should take a deep breath to "brace" the abdominal wall for lumbar support and isometrically contract the trunk muscles. This can be achieved by drawing air in through a large breath into the diaphragm. If the athlete is breathing correctly, this can be observed by a distended abdomen. The athlete should be able to "fill the belt and hold it" to reinforce that both the abdominals and erectors are braced properly.

Finally, the athlete should be cued to sit back, keep his chest forward and open with the head facing forward all while pulling the "slack" out of the bar. Hyperextension of the spine should be avoided when keeping the chest up. The cue of "proud chest" may help to avoid this. This will put the athlete in the proper starting position with correct spinal column support and hip height position. In addition, the athlete will be placed in a "tight" body position that will allow the bar to move in the most vertical path possible.

Pulling to the Knees

Just before starting the SDL movement, the athlete should isometrically contract the quadriceps, gluteus muscle group, latissimus dorsi, and back extensors. Abdominal tension and bracing should also be maintained.

To initiate the start of the movement, the athlete should simultaneously begin extension of the knees, hips, and back. Cues should focus on "driving the feet into the ground" and "pushing the feet apart." The knees should continue to be driven outward with femoral external rotation to oppose knee valgus and change in vertical shank angles as the bar leaves the floor and approaches the knees. The bar should "drag" along the anterior portion of the shin to minimize the length of the hip-to-bar moment arm.

Pulling From the Knees to Lockout

As the bar reaches knee height, forceful hip extension should occur to drive the hips into the bar by contracting the gluteus muscles. The cue "hips forward" as the bar passes the knees will assist the athlete in performing this at the correct time. The bar should continue to "drag the body" by staying in close contact with the anterior portion of the thigh. Simultaneously, the knees should continue to extend until full extension is reached. The hips should come to full extension either at the same time as knee extension is achieved or slightly after. Once the back, hips, and knees are all fully extended, "lock out" is achieved and the lift is considered completed.

Technique Checklist


Feet are placed outside shoulder width.
Feet are rotated outward at 40-45 degrees.
Bar is gripped with a double overhand, alternated, or hook grip.
Hips are positioned higher than the knees and trunk is at or less than 45 degrees.
Scapulae are in in line with the bar.
Spine is arched in slight lordosis.
Chest is open and "proud."
Head facing forward.
Athlete is properly braced.

Concentric Execution

Simultaneous knee, hip and back extension.
Knees are continually pushed outward.
Spine is kept rigid and opposing flexion.
Hips are rapidly pushed toward the bar as it passes the knees.
Head is kept facing forward.
Bar maintains contact with the body throughout the execution.

Lock Out

Athlete has fully extended his knees, hips, and back.
Head is kept facing forward.
Excessive hyperextension of the back has not occurred.

Eccentric Lowering of the Bar

Athlete continues to grip the bar until it reaches the floor.
Actively squats to lower the bar.
Bar continues to maintain contact with the anterior portion of the body.
Spinal rigidity and slight lumbar lordosis is maintained.
Once the bar reaches the floor the movement is ended.

Common Errors

The athlete may start the movement with the bar too far away from the body. This may result in increased hip-to-bar moment arm length and excessive forward trunk lean. This can often be seen in a "counter movement" during the start of the SDL, where the athlete will begin to lift the bar, slightly lean back forward, then re-extend the spine continuing to execute the movement. This may be corrected by ensuring that the scapulae are in line with the bar.

The athlete may begin the movement with the hips positioned too low or too high. This may result in greater muscular recruitment of the low back and increased stress on the lumbar spine (hips too high). It may also cause decreases strength by increasing activity of the quadriceps and reducing activity of the hamstrings (hips too low). This can also be the result of not executing triple extension of the knees, hips, and back simultaneously.

The athlete may not keep the bar close to or in contact with the body throughout the movement. This can cause increased vertebral load shear by increasing the hip-to-bar moment arm length.

The athlete's grip can fail because of fatigue or lack of grip strength. This will result in an incomplete lift and can be possibly dangerous. This can be avoided by reducing the weight until the athlete has the proper grip strength to handle higher loads or by using lifting straps or schtraps.

The athlete's knees can "collapse" in knee valgus causing decreased vertical shank angles. This decrease in shank angle during the execution of the movement can cause the knees to "get in the way" of the bar, reducing velocity and resulting in incorrect SDL technique. This can be avoided by keeping the knees pushed outward and by additional strengthening of the gluteus medius.

The athlete may lose spinal position and rigidity at some point during the SDL movement. This can put the athlete in compromising positions and result in injury. Strengthening of the spinal extensors and the latissimus dorsi may help to oppose this error. A reduction in weight may be necessary until the athlete obtains the proper strength needed to perform the lift correctly and safely.    

The athlete may hyperextend his neck at the onset of the SDL when pulling the weight off the floor. This can cause a loss of tension in the erector spinae and lead to neck pain or injury. This may be corrected by cuing the athlete to keep their chest open and "proud" and by ensuring they keep their head and eyes facing directly forward.

Common Errors in the Sumo Deadlift

Counter-movement of the trunk at the start of the lift:
Cause - Bar is positioned too far away from the body.
Correction - Ensure scapula are in line with the bar before execution.

Hips incorrectly position at the start of the lift:
Cause - Hips positioned either too high or too low during the setup.
Correction - Ensure that the hips are above the knees and the trunk is at or less than 45 degrees.

Bar is not kept in contact with the anterior portion of the body:
Cause - Starting bar position is too far away from the athlete; athlete is leaning forward during execution.
Correction - Position bar over the midfoot close to the athlete's shins; ensure knee, hip, and back extension occur simultaneously; cue athlete to "sit back on heels" during execution.

Athlete drops the bar during execution:
Cause - Improper grip; weak grip; use of a load greater than the athlete's ability.
Correction - Consider using an alternating or hook grip; use lifting straps; strengthen grip; reduce load.

Knees (coming in) collapsing in valgus into the bar:
Cause - Athlete is not keeping knees pushed outward; weak hip abductors.
Correction - Cue athlete to "push knees out" during execution; perform additional hip abduction exercises to increase strength.

Loss of spinal rigidity:
Cause - Weak spinal extensors and support; use of a load greater than the athlete's ability.
Correction - Perform additional spine extensor and latissimus dorsi exercises; reduce load.

Hyperextension of the neck:
Cause - Improper cuing or starting position; athlete is looking upward.
Correction - Ensure that the athlete's chest is open and in a "proud" position; ensure the athlete's head is facing directly forward.

Failures when performing the SDL that occur off the floor are the most common and often due ti either a lack of strength or by positioning the hips too low. This can be addressed by ensuring that the hips are positioned at the right height. Additional exercises such as deficit deadlifts may assist the athlete with increasing off-the-floor strength.

Deficit deadlifts are performed by having the athlete stand on an elevated platform or blocks with the weight still placed on the floor. This will increase the total range of motion of the SDL by increasing the length the bar has to travel before lockout.

Failures that occur as the bar passes the knees and through lockout are less common but may still occur. Failures at this point are often due to a lack of hip extensor strength. This may be addressed through additional direct gluteal training or through exercises such as "pin pull deadlifts" or "block pull deadlifts" where the athlete trains the upper portion of the SDL by deadlifting the bar from a heightened position.

Practical Applications

The SDL can be used in year round training cycles with the repetitions and intensities determined by the needs of the athlete and the mesocycyle goals. The SDL may also be used interchangeably with the CDL depending on the specific muscular needs of the athlete's training program. Powerlifters, specifically, should begin to train with the deadlift variation they plan to use in competition in the weeks before competing.

The SDL may have merit in a rehabilitation program for patients suffering from low back pain (LBP). Although the CDL has been used to decrease pain and increase functionality in those who suffer from LBP, Escamilla Article:  reported similar back extensor and trunk-muscle activity between the SDL and CDL. It is possible that the SDL may produce similar results in regard to LBP as the CDL. In addition, the SDL may be a safer option to the CDL for those suffering from LBP, because of the reduction in L4/L5 lumbar shear load as reported by Cholewicki Article:  This is likely the result of the more vertical trunk position of the SDL.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Improved Pressing Power - Suggestions From John Davis

From This Issue (February 1967)

This Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

 - John Davis was one of the greatest lifters ever produced by America and probably ruled the world heavyweight class longer  than any other man, having won the world title at least seven times and the heavyweight title 12 or 14 times, starting his record making career in 1938 and continuing until 1950 when he was injured while lifting and then retired. 

He was one of the early lifters to make a 1,000 lb. total and made a top total of 1063.25 - perhaps not so high by today's standards, but the greatest in those days. He usually weighed about 210 to 240 and was not a big man by present day heavyweights. 

The comments by Davis on increasing pressing power ought to therefore be worth considerable consideration. Even though this article was originally written some years ago, the way to greater power has not changed. 

You may find some of his recommendations vary from what you will hear others advise. However, remember, this man became a world champion at 17 and was champion as long or longer than any other heavyweight. (Some of his titles were as a light-heavyweight.) We present the following comments of Davis, courtesy of The Australian Weightlifter . . . 

Being a world champion is, of course, a pleasant experience, but it has its difficult moments, aside from close shaves in competition. What I'm getting at is this: Scores of fellows just starting out in the game (and many of those who have been active for a number of years) ask the same question - 

"Davis, how do you train?" 

I HAVE ALWAYS FELT THAT YOU MUST USE EXTREMELY HEAVY POUNDAGES TO MAKE SATISFACTORY GAINS, and that you cannot concern yourself with what kind of form you use in training. 

To deal first of all with the Press. This is the lift that seems to give most of the lifters trouble. Provided you possess all of the natural attributes: leverage, proper mental attitude, etc., there is no reason why you shouldn't make favorable progress. 

Possibly the only factor about my own training method that would not be suitable for many lifters is the following: 

I train on each lift for a week; i.e., I train four days a week and I spend the four days training on the Press. The second week I work on the Snatch, and the third week on the Clean. Sometimes I double up, working on two lifts for a week. In addition to the lifting movements I include a power building exercise such as the squat. 

I perform a minimum of 64 presses a week, and in some instances as many as 80. I do them in sets of 2 reps, 8 sets of 2 in each workout, four workouts a week. When doing 80 reps a week I do 10 sets of 2 in each workout. 

Depending on what kind of condition I'm in at the beginning of a training schedule of about 10 weeks, I make up my mind from the very beginning that I will not go below this poundage for any reason whatsoever. I will do no less than 8 series (sets) of presses, regardless of how sloppy my form may become. 

Here I must caution everyone on an extremely important point. As in singing, you must exercise terrific control in lifting. You must control bad lifting to the point where it no longer can run away with you. If you do incorrect presses in training, you must control them so that you won't do them in a contest. 

Some may not agree with me on this point, but these are my opinions and this is the way I reached a lift in excess of 300 pounds. At some of my training sessions in England and Europe I dragged my head all over the platform trying to press 292 or 303.

These were presses that would not be passed in the most lenient of contests, but come contest time I could control that backbending to such a degree that I could almost always register three white lights from the judges.

To get back to the pressing itself. The principal idea of weightlifting is to build bigger and stronger men. This will not be accomplished if, on every training night you constantly drop back in your training poundages and repetitions. I'm referring, specifically, to the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 system whereby you reduce the number of repetitions employed. Also the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 system in which you reduce the poundage employed. These systems are contrary to basic principles and will not build sustaining power in the pressing muscles. In other words, they do not build "fight and guts" - that something so necessary to get heavy weights through the sticking area without losing control. This has been my system for over a decade. 

The essence of my idea is that if you continually go forward in training, it follows naturally that you will go ahead in a contest. I try to advance my training poundages every second by 2.5 to 10 lbs. If I don't feel that I can advance after this time I am not ashamed to work with the same poundage for another workout or until I can advance. The Press is one lift you cannot force. You just have to wait and take it as it comes.

What to do after having gotten the most out of this system seems to leave most lifters in a dither. Either they lack imagination or they don't sit down and think the problem out rationally. Although I've never known this system by any name, I suppose one might call it the "Set System" - a set number of repetitions and a set training poundage.

In the beginning of my lifting exploits (when 220 was my best Press), I used 175 as a training weight. I would do 10 sets of 5 reps. Eventually my muscles failed to respond to this particular training. Of course I had to find some other system.

By this time I was becoming known and had become an active member of the second team of the world famous York Barbell Club. I noticed that men such as Terlazzo, Terpak, and others, employed basically the same system as I did, except that they did fewer repetitions than I. Bob Hoffman recognized my difficulty and suggested that I try Tony's and John's (Terlazzo and Terpak) system of training on the Press. I cut my repetitions down to 3 and continued to do 10 sets, using 210 lbs. My Press responded immediately. 

When I first went to York, my Press stood at 250 lbs. At this time I had been chosen to represent the USA at the 1938 World Championships to be held in Austria. In the summer of 1939, exactly two years and seven months since I began lifting, and during a workout, weighing 183 lbs., I pressed 295 lbs. I used the above described system until I was able to Press 290.

At this time I ran into another snag and couldn't get ahead in my Press. This time I used my own imagination and starting using sets of 2 reps (10 sets) and sometimes using sets of 3 reps. I started using 200 lbs. and advanced this poundage whenever possible. I would always take a substantial poundage and make 10 single attempts (incidentally, I still do this). At that time, in June of 1941, I made 10 single attempts with 310 lbs. I was soon to find that I could make a fair Press with 320 lbs. I say "fair" because I had to press this weight twice at the 1941 Senior Nationals and although the judges passed it, it was not a perfect Press. I was lucky that day. By the way, I have lifted in front of the most critical judges in the world and if I ever got away with anything (and I certainly have) the blame lies with the officials, not with me.

 I lifting in competition the following year and once again in 1943 with my Press falling off considerably. I then spent nearly four years in the Armed Forces, with little or no training at all. In 1946 I again started using the "set system" of pressing with fair results, but I didn't come along as expected, especially with the increased bodyweight to 240 lbs. (pre-war bodyweight 196-200 lbs.) I could only Press 290 with great difficulty (it would never have been passed).

So once again I changed my training system. I started using 290 lbs. in 10 sets of 2 reps and went directly ahead until I could Press 325 lbs. Here again my progress stalled. I changed my routine to 8 sets of 2 reps, using 280 lbs. which has worked better than any previous method I have ever used.

Late in 1947, at an exhibition, I pressed 340 lbs. and was able to duplicate it with 342 lbs. at the Terlazzo Invitation Meet in 1948.

I have experimented with other systems and have found them to be excellent, but I do not care to use them at this time. I am, more or less, saving them for a rainy day, so to speak.

There is no secret to training on the Press - or any other lift, for that matter. It merely requires a little patience a little imagination, and a good deal of sweat (above all else) with as heavy a weight as you can handle.

There are lifters who claim that all kinds of pressing - supine pressing, alternate pressing, handstand pressing, etc., will build up your pressing ability. I don't believe this. I feel that the energy expended in dumbbell pressing and so on could have been put to much better use in regular presses.

To break the monotony the best alternate movement I can think of is the press while seated. This exercise builds tremendous power at the sticking point and plenty of finishing drive. It also helps to improve the form in regular pressing because there is very little cheating you can do while seated.

Never think that you can Press 200 pounds on your first attempt, but be as sure of it as you are that there is a sky over your head. Because if you miss out on that first Press, chances are that you have missed out on first place in the contest.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Charles A. Smith [1912-1991] - Joe Roark

Check into Joe Roark's Iron History Forum! 
Megatons of Information Over There.
Note: Your Real Name will be required for registration. 

Thanks to Joe Roark for authoring this article. What follows is a condensed version of what Joe published in his Musclesearch newsletter, issues 25 and 26.

To Stuart McRobert for publishing it 
To Bob Wildes for providing access to it.

Charles A. Smith, 1912-1991
by Joe Roark

"Allow me to introduce myself," his letter began June 14, 1985. "My name is Charles A. Smith and from 1950 to 1958 I was editor of Joe Weider's group of magazines." 

Thus began a relationship between Charles and this author that has been sprinkled with a visit to Austin, Texas, where I was Charles' house guest for a week, hundreds of pages of letters between us and many phone conversations. And, a friendship.
Charles wasn't perfect. He could be crusty, determined, insistent and stubborn. He lived the final stage of his life in Austin, alone. His wife, Harriet, passed way Christmas Day 1959. His two daughters live in Texas. 

For some time Charles was a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin. He worked with Professor Terry Todd and the School of Physical Education and Health on materials in the Todd-McLean Collection.

Charles worked on all of Joe Weider's magazines except Adonis and Body Beautiful. If you have access to the fifties era of Joe Weider's magazines, buy them, read them. You will conclude that Charles' stint with those publications was indeed a developing period for the business now based in California. 

On current fans' ignorance of history, Charles wrote, "As an example of how little this modern bunch knows of and about the people to whom they are indebted, let me quote you what happened the other day. One of a bunch of students was up in the Collection searching for term papers. One of them held an eight by ten glossy and asked me who it was. I replied it was John Grimek. Oh, she said, just another one of those bodybuilders. Words failed me. I seriously thought of going out and becoming a hatchet murderer. The tragedy of it is that in their ignorance of the past, these kids are robbing their future." 

On his own lifting he had this to say: "I was better at repetitive lifts. That is, my reps were always more notable than my limits. This is perhaps a reflection of my swimming days when I was a middle and distance swimmer. Frinstance (sic) I could easily do 12 reps in the hang clean with 220. By my best ever clean - and I never practiced it much - was only 250. Yet I could squat 30 reps with 300. So there's nothing remarkable about what I've done. By the way, Joe Weider was present when I did the 390 bench press and the one-hand deadlift of 420. The latter was in a contest with Marvin Eder who dropped out at 410. A cambered bar was used, the same bar that Bruce Randall did his good morning exercises on.

"When I did my 500 pound squat, I went all the way down, a la Steinborn. In the old days you not only had to go all the way down but also stay there for a count of 2 before recovering. Right the way down.

"I taught Doug Hepburn how to lift - his style was poor. One might say that through him I indirectly trained Paul Anderson. After Doug had beaten Anderson - and the only man to do so - Doug and Paul corresponded quite a bit. What I asked Doug to do in his training he wrote and told Paul. I understand (although in all fairness I must say I don't know for certain) that Anderson followed the exercise and training I had laid out for Doug. But who knows or cares now?" 

When discovering Musclesearch was to carry a story on him, he wrote, "As for writing my history in one of your reports, this I don't object to. But I don't want it to be laudatory or have verbal laurels heaped my way. Just a plain statement of what I've done.

Now try to imagine my position: simply state what he has done, but make it sound commonplace. Okay. Charles Arthur Smith did nothing for our sport but inject it with essence, and write about the people and event of the fifties in ways that gave a pulse to the heart of the matter. When others sought self-praise and fame, Charles was content to be a journalist. While others these days don't hesitate to accept accolades and titles such as "ultimate" journalist, Charles simple smiled and was amazed at some of the current situations in the Iron Game. Frankly, it angered Charles that men of small talent are gathering large praise.

Is it true that squat machines came into gyms originally because gym-rats were so busy patting themselves on the back for their achievements that they had no free hands to grasp the barbell? 

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, and that wealth ere gave
Await alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Please notice that those who praise themselves are sometimes unworthy of such adulation. But often, writers who have earned our respect (in the muscle field) may go unhonored if formal ceremonies.

Charles A. Smith deserves your attention, your remembrances of his contributions to the literature of our sport, and frankly, your respect.

Sat in Austin, Texas, was a man who enlivened our sport for eight years in the fifties, and who maintained a memory razor sharp. Though he thought his memory was slipping slightly at nearly 80 years of age, I would have traded him anytime for his ability to recall data.

When I visited him in Austin, I took with me a list of hundreds of names I wanted to toss at him for his off-the-cuff thoughts. He would immediately relate stories, filled with dates and with specific lifts that he had seen or participated in. It was computer-like. We were soon through the list and Charles, with his British-determined-countenance, frowned at me and said, "I thought you were going to ask me some questions." I felt ill-prepared. I felt like the collar on a barbell - knowing I was inadequate if all this mass I was trying to control turned out of level.

Perhaps more important than his ability to recall, is his base of knowledge upon which he can discern the worth of new trends, compare those trends with past ones and note that there really is nothing new under the sun. At least nothing of worth. I think part of the frustration Charles felt while evaluating the present situation in our sport is the lack of control he once had. He guided an era when our sport was emerging into the mainstream. Now we are regressing to a tributary due to drug abuse and supplements of no value except interesting names. Truth has a tendency to get in the way of progress. 

There are many side-doors of knowledge and hints to facts that I probably never would have been made aware of had it not been for the kindness and sharing of Chas. I consider Charles the major key to avenues of study that I've undertaken. Thank you.

My association with Charles has been one of the more rewarding in this field. I have a pride in having known Charles, who should be in the Hall of Fame as a contributor. Remember, the reward of a thing well done . . . is to have done it. You did it, Charles. You did it. 

 - Here are some training-related articles by Charles A. Smith, nowadays not the easiest to obtain. These do little more than scratch the surface of his huge output. I would like to thank all those noted who stepped up and helped in making them available. Honestly, I'd love to have ALL of Smith's lifting articles available, but lately that Demon Money don't wanna let me do it. 

Enjoy your lifting!


Heavy Clean Training - Charles A. Smith (1959)

Fantastic things are happening in the Olympic lifting world! Having lifted more than double bodyweight, many strength athletes now have set their sights on a triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk. Here are some tips on how to increase your power for the Clean.

No article in years has stirred up such a hornet's nest of controversy as the one we recently published in this magazine concerning the triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk.

Muscle Builder:
Sept. 1958. "Which Country Will Make the First Treble-Bodyweight Clean and Jerk."

Feb. 1959. "How to Train for the Triple Bodyweight Clean and Jerk."
This article is here:

The possibility of such a fantastic lift has stirred the hearts and fired the imagination of weightlifters all over the world. Enthusiasts from Fairbanks, Alaska to Pretoria, South Africa are demanding to know more on this subject.

While many of the letter writers range from the skeptical to the downright indignant, most weightlifters are of the opinion that the triple bodyweight Clean and Jerk is definitely possible.

"Dear Mr. Expert," writes a lifter . . . "Since no one has ever performed a triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk, and since no known technique exists to make such a lift possible, what method can you devise that will make the lift at all possible?"

Well, you've put us on the spot. However, since we plainly pointed out how a triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk could be performed, we will explain equally how the beginning half of the lift can be done . . . how a triple bodyweight Clean can be trained for.

We already know that it is humanly possible to lift triple bodyweight in a Front Squat! At least four internationally known lifters have accomplished this and can certainly be depended upon to succeed with even higher poundages in the future.

Chan Tse Kai of Nationalist China -- weighing 123 lbs -- has already performed not only a Clean and Jerk of 62 lbs more than double bodyweight, but -- more indicatively -- he can squat with held in front (Front Squat). Chen is only 23 years old and obviously is nowhere near his peak....

Also in the bantamweight division, both the Korean, Yo In Ho and the American, Chuck Vinci, have also made Front Squats with about 370 lbs, while in the middleweight division (165-174 lbs), Tommy Kono has made a Front Squat with nearly 500 lbs.

It must be obvious to all of you that as regards lifting triple-bodyweight the stars are just about ready to break the barrier. And it is through their wisdom in training according to basic power methods that this tremendous and thrilling feat will assuredly come to pass.

Now, here are two great problems the lifter faces when attempting a triple-bodyweight Clean from the floor to the shoulders:

1) The bar must be pulled upward with sufficient force and momentum to enable the lifter to hold or 'fix' the weight at the chest when in a deep squat or leg-split position.

2) The lifter must -- through scientific training methods -- develop sufficient power in his thighs, hips and back, so that he can be sure of standing upright for the Jerk, without being exhausted.

To accomplish the first of these stages, it is clear that the lifter must practice making upward power pulls from all angles and positions, because only through this training procedure can he develop enough muscular force to handle and sustain such large poundages.

There must be all-around pulling motions for the arms. There must be fast deadlifts for building both coordinated back, hip and thigh strength; and for short, sudden bursts of power to make fast, powerful cleaning motions with great weights.

Now, regular movements will not accomplish this, for extremely heavy weights cannot be handled. Therefore, we have devised a series of unusual movements which -- while performed by many champion lifters -- are not familiar to all lifters. These movements are all great basic, power movements and faithful performance of them will build you the needed power to clean and support much bigger poundages.


Click Pics to ENLARGE

1) Fast Repetition Deadlifts From Graduated Levels.

This advanced training technique has built super power on all lifters who have used it appropriately. Here's a quick overview of how to use them:

A) From the Floor.
Starting with a medium weight and gradually working up in poundage . . . when it is no longer possible to add weight, go on to --

B) Using Blocks (or the rack)
Progressively shorten the range of motion of the exercise by raising the starting point of the bar, all the while continuing to increase the poundage. At first, low (6-8 inch) blocks are used; then foot-high blocks, continuing on in this manner as greater and greater weights are used.

Now, when you have continued to increase both the height of the supports and the poundage on the bar and no further gains in strength seem forthcoming, you still have an ace up your sleeve. You can do the deadlift in reverse which will build even more terrific back, hip and leg strength; and use this in a combination with reverse cleans to build equally terrific arm and shoulder strength so essential in certain parts of this lift especially where confidence is concerned.

Here is how the deadlift in reverse is done:
Load the barbell on sturdy boxes at about hip height, so that as you grasp the bar you are standing in an erect or nearly erect position. Now lift the weight just slightly up from the boxes and lower (or 'reverse deadlift') it to the floor, lowering the weight to the floor as slowly as possible. In this way you can overcome almost an sticking point in hip/leg/back weakness and handle heavier weights than are possible in the regular deadlift. Progressively work up to the heaviest weight you can over 6 to 9 single repetitions.

After you have done this phase of the movement, then you are ready to give your shoulders and arms an extra power boost. With the barbell still on the hip-high boxes -- but this time with considerably less weight on the bar -- bend the arms somewhat and lift the bar slightly upward until it just clears the boxes, then lower it to the floor slowly (with arms held slightly bent for as long as you can), fighting the weight all the way down, working up to a maximum weight over 6 to 9 single repetitions.

Naturally, you cannot be expected to perform either phase of this exercise in sets and repetitions. But if you can arrange to have two lifting partners to reset the barbell on the boxes, you can get more out of the exercises than when you have to re-assemble it yourself. If you do have to remove weight before returning the bar to the boxes, make sure to make each single repetition count.

Note: I've found that I can manage lifting the loaded bar back onto support boxes quite easily if I do it one end at a time. Just lift the right side of the bar up onto the box, then the left. Just a dimwitted tip for any lifters out there who, like me, have for the most part trained alone at home for decades.

Front-of-the-Neck Squats (Front Squats).

In this exercise you will need squat stands and two strong boxes (or a power rack). Adjust the squat stands to the exact height at which you hold the bar on the chest when making front squats. Adjust the boxes to the exact depth to which the plates of the barbell descend at the lowest point of the full Front Squat.

Now, using the heaviest weight you can possible handle, take it off the squat stands . . . bend the knees s-l-o-w-l-y and lower into a full front squat until the plates touch the boxes. You are not to complete the squat . . . that is, you go fully down but you do not return to the starting position. 

This builds power into the legs and accustoms them to handling the heaviest poundages. Always use the heaviest possible weight in this movement and keep increasing the poundage as often as possible. Do 6 to 9 single repetitions in this exercise. 

Now, when you have completed your quota of single repetitions in the assistance (negative) Front Squat, you can remove some weight from the bar and perform 3 sets of 3 repetitions each in the Half Front Squat. 

And you will use boxes in this exercise adjusted to exactly half-front-squat depth to make sure that your lifts do not go lower than necessary to perform the half front squat.

On the days when you have some extra energy left after this, you can perform the Regular Full Front Squat. Try 3 sets of 3 reps if you can make it. Occasionally, you might like to perform full back squats either as an alternate to the front squats, or as an "extra" if you're just bursting with latent strength.

Splits at Graduated Levels.

In this exercise you will again need squat stands. The idea is to help you become accustomed to handling heavier weights in the fore-and-aft position of the legs during this phase of cleaning split style. 

Your boxes and blocks will come into good usage here, for the technique is to gradually and progressively maneuver the heaviest weight into a lower and lower split position until you can easily encompass the full range of the split with the heavy weights you are working toward.

First, adjust the boxes to their highest point. Take the weight off the squat stands, go into a split until the barbell plates touch the boxes. Now continue lowering and raising while in this split position, making sure that the plates just barely graze the surface of the boxes. This builds great tensile strength and flexibility.

Put in place boxes of lesser height and do the same thing . . . and continue in this manner until you can do the deepest split with the heaviest weight. The boxes protect you from injury that might come from a too-sudden and too-deep lower of the weight. 

Try about 4 sets of 5 repetitions at four different box heights . . . one set to each height of support. And, to make sure that the greatest degree of strength and flexibility is built into the legs, practice this exercise both with weight held in front of the chest and on the back of the shoulders. 

As you can see, the sticking point of the extremely heavy Clean invariably occurs at the vital half-way point in the lift. That's why the champion lifters who will make a triple bodyweight Clean and Jerk will have to attack the problem systematically to build a steady growth of extra strength. The methods they use include the ones I have given you here.

And you . . . even if you have not the slightest intention of competing in Olympic lifting, can use the techniques described here to build great reserves of power and energy and magnificent muscle beyond anything you ever thought possible.     

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shoulder Specialization - John McCallum

Originally Published in This Issue (September 1967) 

The Author, John McCallum

Shoulder Specialization

I was practicing my guitar the other day when my daughter's boyfriend came in. He had on a shirt like a painter's nightmare and a banana sticking out of the breast pocket. He pulled out the banana and held it up to his mouth.

"Got a match?" he said.

I gritted my teeth and fumbled four bars of "Wayfaring Stranger."

He made a big production of walking up and examining the guitar.

"The axe, Dad," he said. "She ain't plugged in."

"It's not electric," I said. "It's a folk guitar."

He flopped on the couch and put his feet up on the coffee table.

"Like for folk songs?"

"That's right," I said. "Like for folk songs and get your feet off the coffee table."

He put his feet down, sat up straight, and worked an aesthetic look onto his face. "Man," he said. "That folk gig is for real. You know - cane fields, coal mines, exploitation of the working class and all." He gazed off dreamily into space.

"Marvin," I said, "what are you babbling about? You've never done a day's work in your life."

He looked insulted. "Man," he said, "I'm sensitive. I can appreciate hard work without actually doing any."

"Sort of vicarious involvement?"

"Yeah. Anyway," he added, "I work with the weights."

"How you doing with them?"

"Great." He got to his feet and stuck out his chest.

I shielded my eyes. "Marvin," I said, "do you mind sitting down? That shirt's going to blind someone."

"Man," he said, "you're way behind. It's like psychedelic." He stuck his chest out again. "How do I look?"

"You look fine," I said. "Sit down."

"I wanted to talk to you about specializing," he said.

"On what?"

"The sexy look."


"On my shoulders."

"Marvin," I said, "why don't you go read a good book and specialize on your head for a while?"

It bounced right off. "I'd rather have broad shoulders," he said.


"Because the girls like them."

"Marvin," I said, "are you thinking of my little girl?"

His face fell. "No, no," he stammered. "Certainly not." He gave me a weak grin. "You know how it is."

"Not really," I said. "But I remember how it was." I went into the kitchen and got a pencil and paper.

"Here," I said. "I'll give you a shoulder specialization program. Write it down or you'll forget it before you get home."

I sat down again. "You'll work out six days a week," I said. "Three days on a general bulk program, and three days on your shoulders."

"On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays you do the general program. Start out with three sets of prone hyperextensions to warm up your lower back. 10 reps each set."

He scribbled on the paper.

"Now you can slip into the squats," I said. "Five sets of five reps. A light set to warm up, a little heavier for the second set, then three sets as heavy as you can do them."

He wrote it down.

"Do a set of pullovers after each set of squats. 15 reps with a light weight."


I looked at him closely. "You're working hard on the squats, aren't you?"

"Of course," He looked quite indignant.

"How much you using?"

"Around four hundred," he said. "For five reps."

I watched him for a while. "What do you mean, around four hundred?"

He shrugged. "You know. Around."

"Over or under?"

"Under," he said. "A little."

"How much under?"

"A few pounds. You know."

"For goodness sake, Marvin," I said. "Will you quit playing the fool? Exactly how much are you using?"

He smiled weakly. "Three-ten."

"Three-ten?" I said. "You were using that months ago. What have you been doing since?"

"Man," he said. "That's quite a load."

"It's not enough. You know better than that. Get with it."

He slumped back on the couch. "Okay," he said. "I'll try."

"All right. Now," I said. "You can do your bench presses. Five sets of five."


"And curls, five sets of five. Rowing, five sets of eight. And power cleans, fives sets of three and that's it."

"What about the shoulder work?" he said.

"That's coming," I said. "You work your shoulders on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. You'll use the 'High Set' system of training. Coupled with the power stuff on the other days, your shoulders should grow real fast." 

"Great," he said. "What do I do?" 

"Write it down," I said. "You start off with the basic exercise for the shoulder girdle, the press behind neck. Only you won't be doing it in basic style. You'll be doing in in very advanced style. You gotta use advanced methods to really get good.

"Take the weight off the squat rack," I said. "Don't clean it. Use a wide grip and press the weight up as fast and smooth as you can. Lock your arms at the top.

"Don't rest the bar on your shoulders between reps. Just lower it till it touches the back of your neck and then press it right back up again. Try and get a sort of rebound out of it." 

He got a dreamy look in his eyes. "Man," he murmured. "I'm gonna look great." 

"Use a moderate weight for your first set. Do six reps. Increase the weight and do another set of six. Then do three sets of six as heavy as you can with a couple of minutes rest between sets.

"And don't forget," I said. "This heavy stuff is all-important. Reg Park presses over three hundred behind the neck. You won't get shoulders like Reg Park's by pressing one hundred or even two hundred. Shoot for three hundred pounds."

Marvin blinked. "Man," he said. "That's like a lot of weight."

"Sure," I said. "And you'll end up with a lot of muscle."

His eyes got dreamy again. "I'd like that."

"Okay. And when you finish the heavy sets take a couple of minutes rest. Then drop the poundage way down and start doing sets of eight reps with no more than thirty seconds rest between sets. Do ten of these light sets and drop the poundage as you tire. You'll finish up with a pretty light weight but you'll be pumped like you're wearing shoulder pads."

Marvin looked a little doubtful. "Man," he said. "It might be easier to wear shoulder pads."

"It's a lot of work," I said. "But you're going to get a lot of results."

"Okay," he said. "You're the boss."

"Good. Now, when you finish the presses, take a short rest. Then you do a secondary set for the deltoids. The one-arm dumbbell press.

"Do them the same way, I said. "A couple of warmup sets, three sets of six as heavy as you can, and ten sets of eight with about thirty seconds rest between sets. Do them military style. Don't rock over any more than an inch or two.

"Handle all the weight you can on the heavy sets," I said. "You ought to be able to work up to over a hundred pounds."

"I'll try."

Okay. And finally you do a supplementary pumping exercise. Lateral raises with light dumbbells. Do them fifteen sets of eight reps."

He scratched it down. The paper was getting crowded.

"Do the lateral raises in very strict style," I said. "Lean forward slightly while you're doing them. Don't lean back under any circumstances. Do them nice and smooth and no more than thirty seconds rest between sets. That's the final exercise and you'll be blown up like a life raft when you finish."

"And I'll get big shoulders?"

"I guarantee it. Stick on that program for a couple of months and your shoulders will be your outstanding body part. Everybody'll notice them."

"Man," he said. "The girls'll love me."

I gave him a cold look and he stammered, "Not that it matters, of course."

"Okay," I said. "But don't forget you gotta soak up protein or you won't gain. Take all the supplements you can and knock off at least two quarts of the 'Get Big' drink.

"You oughta like that," I added. "It's got a banana in it."

"Ah, yes," he said. "The mellow yellow."

"That's right," I said. "But eat it. Don't smoke it." 


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